NHRMC top-ranking physician concerned about COVID-19 spike as fall season approaches

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Many K-12 schools across the Cape Fear are resuming a mix of remote and in-person learning amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

This week, we have reported on a number of universities across North Carolina who have reported an increase in confirmed COVID-19 cases.

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Dr. West Paul is the Chief Clinical Officer at New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington. As more students return to class, Paul says he is concerned about a spike in cases.

“I think anytime we open new areas of congregation, we are a bit concerned, especially those that may have a higher risk of contracting the actual disease,” he said.

Paul says by wearing face coverings and maintaining appropriate social distance, we can probably open schools and universities safely.

“We have to be vigilant about clusters and take care of those when we see them but the plans in place should be adequate,” Paul said.

With a number of organizations like the YMCA and Brigade Boys and Girls Club now offering childcare for working parents, Paul says there is reason for concern about the illness spreading.

“Certainly, in those facilities dealing with younger children who we now know can spread the disease and can be asymptomatic, there’s always that risk particularly as we bring larger numbers together,” he said. “As we try to reopen safely with masks and social distancing, the teachers and caregivers almost really have to be hyper vigilant to make sure we maintain [social] distancing and masking.”

Recently, there has been a bit of a plateau of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Cape Fear compared to a spike a few months ago. This regional drop in numbers, Paul says, has resulted in a decrease in hospitalizations.

But with the fall and winter seasons approaching, Paul says we’ll likely see those numbers increase.

“I think with the cooler weather as people congregate more inside, very much like influenza, we would see those cases go up,” he said. “We are hopeful that we have learned a lot in these ensuing months, 5-6 months, about masking and social distancing, but we know just like many communicable diseases, the cold, influenza, as it gets colder, we know it goes up and transmission increases.”

Regarding development and availability of a COVID-19 vaccine, Paul is very confident one will be available by the end of the year.

“Certainly by the end of the year or the beginning of the year we will have a vaccine that will be safe and effective–those are the two aspects of any vaccine,” he said. “The scientific community has done an incredible job of moving the vaccine along this fast, its almost unheard of, we are confident we will have a vaccine.”